It seems that everywhere I look there are articles about the lack of community and the resulting problems of isolation. So, the question is, how can we, as individuals, develop a sense of community in our neighbourhood?
Here are some of the ideas that I’ve found helpful.
In many ways the answer is simple – start with small things! – It reminds me of growing plants. At the beginning there are those first small seeds. They need planting, then tending. Growth takes patience, time, and thoughtful care.
The first seeds are those of friendliness and kindness. These go a long way in developing a healthy community. A smile, a cheerful word, taking an interest in a garden, the weather, – just neutral topics which are non-threatening, provide a gentle invitation to communication.
From that can come the development of asking neighbours in and having a coffee break with them. Here the thing to remember is “keep it simple”. This is not a competition to provide the best food; it is a chance to get to know people. Sunday lunch is a favourite time for me to invite people. My standard menu is a large pot of soup, using whatever is in season and bread ( plus rice crackers for the gluten intolerant). Modeling simplicity and stressless hospitality is helpful.
With several of our neighbours we have developed a tradition of a simple pot luck meal, shared together from time to time. We now look after each others mail/cats/plants if anyone is away – it feels nice and, well, neighbourly.
One thing that is important – don’t expect things to be reciprocated. You might invite someone in for a cuppa, and though they enjoy it, there is no return invitation – that’s ok. You don’t give in order to receive back. Just keep being friendly.
But what we have often found is that the by-product of friendliness is a growing spirit of sharing. We have had life-long friendships forged, by the gift of a cabbage or some tomatoes!
This beautiful Maori proverb sums it all up for me. For this is what growing community is all about.
“ He aha te mea nui o te au? He tangata! He tangata! He tangata!” which translates –
What is the most important thing in the world? It is people! It is people! It is people!